Programming Language/Software

BEFLIX (Bell Flicks) is a programming language for bitmap computer-generated movies created by Kenneth Knowlton in 1963 at the Bell Laboratories.

Knowlton created BEFLIX using an IBM 7094 and a Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder. The language allowed the production of images with a resolution of 252 × 184 dots, or “pixels”, in eight shades of grey (1 byte greyscale). Once the animation was programmed and calculated it could be plotted at a rate of between 10,000 and 100,000 points, lines or characters per second, resulting in several frames per second. By the time, this was revolutionary. The process was also quite cheap compared to hand-drawn animation, with a production cost of about US-$500 per minute.

As it was not a mere plotting language, but created the frames themselves algorithmically, BEFLIX was able to very fast generate graphically complex images, if they were “logically simple”. It held most basic graphical operations known from today’s vector programs, like drawing straight and curved lines, filling closed forms, and copying and translating forms. All graphical elements were stored on a rasterised basis, which means all the curves, lines and forms were saved as individual dots. While seemingly not being able to rotate images or image components, it did have the capability to smoothly fade between images.

One of the best noted films done by using BEFLIX is Pixillation (Schwartz, Lillian by Kenneth Knowlton and Lillian F. Schwartz. [Source: The Computer in Art]

A short description of BEFLIX in German can be found in [Nake, 1974, p. 152-155].